The season came to an end for the Penn State men’s hockey team Sunday night — and the final few weeks were exhausting.
But for coach Guy Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions who will be coming back, it’s going to be a long offseason of waiting.
“I don’t think I’ve felt this way before,” Gadowsky said Tuesday afternoon at Pegula Ice Arena. “We really want to apply the lessons that we learned, and I’d like it to start very quickly.”
The Nittany Lions finished the year 25-12-2, winning a Big Ten championship and beating Union in the first round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Denver 6-3 in the Midwest Regional final.
Gadowsky, his staff and his team saw things big and small they want to do better, especially what was made evident when they played the nation’s top programs like Denver and Minnesota.
“Getting to the tournament, and getting a taste of a chance to go to the Frozen Four was really motivating,” Gadowsky said. “I’ve got to be honest, that’s something that I think everybody in this program really wants now.”
Although the Big Ten tournament was a major learning experience, pushing their mental and physical limits with two double-overtime wins, there was a stretch earlier this year that also taught a lot.
In mid-January, the team shot up to No. 1 in the nation, an incredible feat for a program in just its fifth Division I campaign. But things didn’t go well for the team after that, and while stiff Big Ten competition was one reason for that, there also was the additional attention and pressure from the outside that comes with the lofty ranking.
Gadowsky brushed off the idea that his team was distracted at the time, but not long after sought counsel from football coach James Franklin.
“Who else better to ask about that kind of stuff?” Gadowsky asked aloud. “That was a very important conversation for us as coaches to get back focused on what we had to do to get back and win the Big Ten.”
What was supposed to be a 10-minute talk ended up lasting close to an hour, and the team found its footing before it was too late.
“I don’t know that we would have refocused,” Gadowsky said.
Now they are hungry again, and the 2017-18 season can’t get here fast enough — after a little more rest.
“It’s motivating in a way that you did it, so you want to do it again and you want to do more and you want to be better,” freshman goalie Peyton Jones said. “There’s still a lot to accomplish.”
Like a broken record
As would be expected from a season like this, a number of records were tied or broken by the time the team skated off the ice Sunday night — 65 to be exact — for individual, team, single-game, single-season and career categories.
Hearing that number drew a double take and stunned look from Gadowsky.
“I didn’t know that,” he said. “That’s a nice number.”
Among the notable numbers from the season (since we can’t list them all): David Goodwin graduates with the career program marks in points (128), assists (84) and games played (147). Denis Smirnov has single-season records for points (47) and assists (28) and Andrew Sturtz matched Casey Bailey’s record for goals in a season (22).
PSU has their attention
While it was a fun season to watch up close, and the Nittany Lions got plenty of compliments from Big Ten coaches through the season, they also heard a few good words from their opponents last weekend at the NCAA’s Midwest Regional.
“There are a lot of programs that should be looking at this,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “Looking at what Penn State’s done, how they did it, they did it right, the endowment they got and the people they hired, they were able to be successful and profitable in such a short time. Hopefully it will lead to an expansion in college hockey.”
Meanwhile, the team that lost 10-3 to the Nittany Lions in the semifinals also was impressed — and worried about the future.
“They are a team that had a lot of freshmen,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “So they are going to be a powerhouse for years to come. The whole staff has done a really nice job, so I wish them luck coming up.”